We’re mere days away from the kickoff of the 2016 MLS Regular Season. Preseason matches and tournaments have wrapped up. Rosters are finalizing. Season tickets have arrived. Jerseys have been unveiled. It’s almost go time!
Jerseys are a big business for soccer teams. They’re instantly recognizable – from the colors, to the crest, the sponsor, along with the name and number on the back. Fans spend hard-earned money on jerseys of their favorite player and / or team, often buying one (or more) when each new jersey that gets released. While there’s no set time limit on how long a team keeps a jersey “in-rotation,” these days typically see new releases every year. A club might not change both it’s home, away, or third kit at the same time, but they’re almost bound to make a change to at least one every season. With those changes comes the fun of jersey unveilings, which seem grow in effort and importance each and every season.
The folks over at Sports Illustrated have kept a running tally of this year’s jerseys and called out the specific updates that were made to either the home, away, or third kit for each respective club. It’s definitely a handy guide to look through and see what each team will be wearing this season.
One of the most notable changes this year with MLS jerseys is seemingly subtle, but it makes a huge difference. Adidas is the sole manufacturer of all MLS jerseys and ALL of their jerseys – from MLS to national teams and international clubs – have always had their trademark three stripes on the sleeves. Starting with MLS jerseys this year, some of the jerseys now have the Adidas stripes running vertically down the sides of the jersey along the torso.
“You’ll begin to see, if you haven’t already, the adidas brand making major shifts in innovation and creation across the board,” notes Mike Brennan, the Assistant Manager of Sports Marketing for Adidas. “From top down, we’re committed to ‘Creating the New.’ We’re living this motto with the new design language of the 2016 MLS kits. Our goal was to achieve a modern and urban style, without losing the commercial and in-market appeal of each kit.” Consider that mention achieved, Mike. We welcome the update to help keep MLS jerseys feeling fresh.
While the previous three seasons have seen MLS adopt a #JerseyWeek, in which all clubs release their jerseys during separate events within the course of a single week, this year was less formal. Clubs still had local events, but this year events were more spread out over the course of February and early March leading up to kickoff.
I’m not sure if it’s because the releases were spread out, but this year holds a handful of notable releases. There’s not “right” or “wrong” way for a club to release a jersey as many factors go in the reveal including budget, jersey sponsor, and the local market. For a variety of reasons, here are five releases that stood out:
Sporting Kansas City
In the United States, sporting events don’t get any better than the Super Bowl. While national commercials fetch between $4.5 – $5 million for :30 spots, there are local commercial breaks that run during the game too. This year, Sporting Kansas City used a local commercial break during Super Bowl 50 to unveil both their slick alternate kit and new team slogan “All for the City” for 2016. Even though the Chiefs weren’t in the game, SKC banked on local fans still tuning in to the game, given how big of a culture phenomenon it is. Beyond that, they also tapped local rapper Tech N9ne to provide voiceover for the ad.
New York City FC
Using players for jersey intros is a no-brainer. They’re the ones who fans seeing running up-and-down the field in the jersey week-in and week-out. Those fans are also the lifeblood of any team and support clubs through thick and thin. In order to give back to some fans, NYCFC had two of its biggest stars in Andrea Pirlo and David Villa, plus fan favorite Kwadwo Poku, surprise three fans at their jobs and reveal their new alternate kit.
Fans thought they were going to be part of a documentary about NYCFC fans ahead of the 2016 season and had no idea the players or jerseys were coming. Imagine being one of those fans and not only having your favorite player just show up, but then have them exclusively reveal this year’s jersey. If they weren’t already fans for life, they will be now. Not only was the emotion and exclusivity powerful for the fans, it also helped create a strong piece of longform video content for the club. They can now use that to showcase that they truly are a club of the fans.
San Jose Earthquakes
We previously talked about how San Jose’s new jersey sponsor, Sutter Health. After announcing the partnership, the Quakes used a scrimmage between the first team and their U-18s to showcase the new sponsor and their brand new away kit.
What makes this reveal unique? The scrimmage was only open to season ticket holders. What a fantastic way to showcase your new look with some of your most-valued fans. You give them the experience of seeing the team play for the first time this season and the opportunity to meet some of their favorite players afterward. It’s also a cool experience for the Academy players, who one day strive to play for the main team.
Similar to the Earthquakes, the Rapids debuted their 2016 home jersey to season ticket holders first. However, the Rapids sent the fans, and other local athletes, a jersey directly and had the fans use their social media channel to reveal the jersey. Using the hashtag #RapidsJersey, the official team account let fans know how the jersey was being unveiled. Then through a series of retweets, they showcased people with the jersey. The result was pretty cool as the club took a back seat in the reveal to some of those who matter most. Not only did it allow that personal connection, but it was also a cool social execution.
— John Fitzsimmons (@jdfitzxx) March 2, 2016
New England Revolution
Like many clubs do, the New England Revolution opted to host a “fashion show” of sorts. Important people associated with the club – the head coach, owner, general manager – typically speak, and a local celebrity often serves as emcee for the evening.
However, the Revs didn’t give the fans in attendance the first sneak peek. They let their fans on social media get the quickest of glimpses of the new jersey on the club’s Periscope account, as they were walking out to the event. 13 minutes after their tweet linking to their Periscope broadcast went live, their next tweet contained the official reveal of the new home jersey for 2016. While the number of fans who tuned in to the Periscope reveal was limited and short-lived – the entire broadcast was around :15 and then disappears after 24 hours – that bite-sized behind-the-scenes content is what fans crave on social media. Great job to embrace technology and connect to the coveted millennial audience.
These are only a few of the releases that stood out for a variety of ways. I’m already thinking ahead to 2017 MLS Jerseys and how clubs can find unique methods to reveal them, especially with Atlanta United and potentially Minnesota United FC joining the league next season. In the meantime, it’ll be good to see the jerseys get actual game time soon.